"Power point" redirects here. For other uses, see Power point (disambiguation).
Microsoft PowerPoint is a presentation program, created by Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin at a software company named Forethought, Inc. It was released on April 20, 1987, initially for Macintosh computers only. Microsoft acquired PowerPoint for $14 million three months after it appeared. This was Microsoft's first significant acquisition, and Microsoft set up a new business unit for PowerPoint in Silicon Valley where Forethought had been located.
PowerPoint became a component of the Microsoft Office suite, first offered in 1989 for Macintosh and in 1990 for Windows, which bundled several Microsoft apps. Beginning with PowerPoint 4.0 (1994), PowerPoint was integrated into Microsoft Office development, and adopted shared common components and a converged user interface.
PowerPoint's market share was very small at first, prior to introducing a version for Microsoft Windows, but grew rapidly with the growth of Windows and of Office.(pp402–404) Since the late 1990s, PowerPoint's worldwide market share of presentation software has been estimated at 95 percent.
PowerPoint was originally designed to provide visuals for group presentations within business organizations, but has come to be very widely used in many other communication situations, both in business and beyond. The impact of this much wider use of PowerPoint has been experienced as a powerful change throughout society, with strong reactions including advice that it should be used less, should be used differently, or should be used better.
The first PowerPoint version (Macintosh 1987) was used to produce overhead transparencies, the second (Macintosh 1988, Windows 1990) could also produce color 35mm slides. The third version (Windows and Macintosh 1992) introduced video output of virtual slideshows to digital projectors, which would over time completely replace physical transparencies and slides. A dozen major versions since then have added many additional features and modes of operation and have made PowerPoint available beyond Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows, adding versions for iOS, Android, and web access.
Creation at Forethought (1984–1987)
PowerPoint was created by Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin at a software startup in Silicon Valley named Forethought, Inc. Forethought had been founded in 1983 to create an integrated environment and applications for future personal computers that would provide a graphical user interface, but it had run into difficulties requiring a "restart" and new plan.
On July 5, 1984, Forethought hired Robert Gaskins as its vice president of product development(p51) to create a new application that would be especially suited to the new graphical personal computers, such as Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh. Gaskins produced his initial description of PowerPoint about a month later (August 14, 1984) in the form of a 2-page document titled "Presentation Graphics for Overhead Projection." By October 1984 Gaskins had selected Dennis Austin to be the developer for PowerPoint. Gaskins and Austin worked together on the definition and design of the new product for nearly a year, and produced the first specification document dated August 21, 1985. This first design document showed a product as it would look in Microsoft Windows 1.0, which at that time had not been released.
Development from that spec was begun by Austin in November 1985, for Macintosh first.(p104) About six months later, on May 1, 1986, Gaskins and Austin chose a second developer to join the project, Thomas Rudkin.(p149) Gaskins prepared two final product specification marketing documents in June 1986; these described a product for both Macintosh and Windows. At about the same time, Austin, Rudkin, and Gaskins produced a second and final major design specification document, this time showing a Macintosh look.
Throughout this development period the product was called "Presenter." Then, just before release, there was a last-minute check with Forethought's lawyers to register the name as a trademark, and "Presenter" was unexpectedly rejected because it had already been used by someone else. Gaskins says that he thought of "PowerPoint", based on the product's goal of "empowering" individual presenters, and sent that name to the lawyers for clearance, while all the documentation was hastily revised.
Funding to complete development of PowerPoint was assured in mid-January, 1987, when a new Apple Computer venture capital fund, called Apple's Strategic Investment Group, selected PowerPoint to be its first investment.(pp169–171) A month later, on February 22, 1987, Forethought announced PowerPoint at the Personal Computer Forum in Phoenix; John Sculley, the CEO of Apple, appeared at the announcement and said "We see desktop presentation as potentially a bigger market for Apple than desktop publishing."
PowerPoint 1.0 for Macintosh shipped from manufacturing on April 20, 1987, and the first production run of 10,000 units was sold out.
Acquisition by Microsoft (1987–1992)
By early 1987, Microsoft was starting to plan a new application to create presentations, an activity led by Jeff Raikes, who was head of marketing for the Applications Division. Microsoft assigned an internal group to write a specification and plan for a new presentation product. They contemplated an acquisition to speed up development, and in early 1987 Microsoft sent a letter of intent to acquire Dave Winer's product called MORE, an outlining program that could print its outlines as bullet charts. During this preparatory activity Raikes discovered that a program specifically to make overhead presentations was already being developed by Forethought, Inc., and that it was nearly completed. Raikes and others visited Forethought on February 6, 1987, for a confidential demonstration.(p173)
Raikes later recounted his reaction to seeing PowerPoint and his report about it to Bill Gates, who was initially skeptical:
I thought, "software to do overheads—that's a great idea." I came back to see Bill. I said, "Bill, I think we really ought to do this;" and Bill said, "No, no, no, no, no, that's just a feature of Microsoft Word, just put it into Word." ... And I kept saying, "Bill, no, it's not just a feature of Microsoft Word, it's a whole genre of how people do these presentations." And, to his credit, he listened to me and ultimately allowed me to go forward and ... buy this company in Silicon Valley called Forethought, for the product known as PowerPoint.
When PowerPoint was released by Forethought, its initial press was favorable; the Wall Street Journal reported on early reactions: "'I see about one product a year I get this excited about,' says Amy Wohl, a consultant in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. 'People will buy a Macintosh just to get access to this product.'"
On April 28, 1987, a week after shipment, a group of Microsoft's senior executives spent another day at Forethought to hear about initial PowerPoint sales on Macintosh and plans for Windows.(p191) The following day, Microsoft sent a letter to Dave Winer withdrawing its earlier letter of intent to acquire his company, and in mid-May 1987 Microsoft sent a letter of intent to acquire Forethought. As requested in that letter of intent, Robert Gaskins from Forethought went to Redmond for a one-on-one meeting with Bill Gates in early June, 1987,(p197) and by the end of July an agreement was concluded for an acquisition. The New York Times reported:
... July 30— The Microsoft Corporation announced its first significant software acquisition today, paying $14 million [$30.2 million in present-day terms] for Forethought Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. Forethought makes a program called PowerPoint that allows users of Apple Macintosh computers to make overhead transparencies or flip charts. ... [T]he acquisition of Forethought is the first significant one for Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Wash. Forethought would remain in Sunnyvale, giving Microsoft a Silicon Valley presence. The unit will be headed by Robert Gaskins, Forethought's vice president of product development.
Microsoft's president Jon Shirley offered Microsoft's motivation for the acquisition: "'We made this deal primarily because of our belief in desktop presentations as a product category. ... Forethought was first to market with a product in this category.'"
Microsoft set up within its Applications Division an independent "Graphics Business Unit" to develop and to market PowerPoint, the first Microsoft application group distant from the main Redmond location. All the PowerPoint people from Forethought joined Microsoft, and the new location was headed by Robert Gaskins, with Dennis Austin and Thomas Rudkin leading development. PowerPoint 1.0 for Macintosh was modified to indicate the new Microsoft ownership and continued to be sold.
A new PowerPoint 2.0 for Macintosh, adding color 35mm slides, appeared by mid-1988, and again won good reviews. The same PowerPoint 2.0 product re-developed for Windows was shipped two years later, in mid-1990, at the same time as Windows 3.0. Much of the color technology was the fruit of a joint development partnership with Genigraphics, at that time the dominant presentation services company.
PowerPoint 3.0, which was shipped in 1992 for both Windows and Mac, added live video for projectors and monitors, with the result that PowerPoint was thereafter used for delivering presentations as well as for preparing them. This was at first an alternative to overhead transparencies and 35mm slides, but over time would come to replace them.
Part of Microsoft Office (since 1993)
See also: History of Microsoft Office
PowerPoint had been included in Microsoft Office from the beginning. PowerPoint 2.0 for Macintosh was part of the first Office bundle for Macintosh which was offered in mid-1989. When PowerPoint 2.0 for Windows appeared, a year later, it was part of a similar Office bundle for Windows, which was offered in late 1990. Both of these were bundling promotions, in which the independent applications were packaged together and offered for a lower total price.
PowerPoint 3.0 (1992) was again separately specified and developed, and was prominently advertised and sold separately from Office. It was, as before, included in Microsoft Office 3.0, both for Windows and the corresponding version for Macintosh.
A plan to integrate the applications themselves more tightly had been indicated as early as February 1991, toward the end of PowerPoint 3.0 development, in an internal memo by Bill Gates:
Another important question is what portion of our applications sales over time will be a set of applications versus a single product. ... Please assume that we stay ahead in integrating our family together in evaluating our future strategies—the product teams WILL deliver on this. ... I believe that we should position the "OFFICE" as our most important application.
The move from bundling separate products to integrated development began with PowerPoint 4.0, developed in 1993–1994 under new management from Redmond. The PowerPoint group in Silicon Valley was reorganized from the independent "Graphics Business Unit" (GBU) to become the "Graphics Product Unit" (GPU) for Office, and PowerPoint 4.0 changed to adopt a converged user interface and other components shared with the other apps in Office.
When it was released, the computer press reported on the change approvingly: "PowerPoint 4.0 has been re-engineered from the ground up to resemble and work with the latest applications in Office: Word 6.0, Excel 5.0, and Access 2.0. The integration is so good, you'll have to look twice to make sure you're running PowerPoint and not Word or Excel." Office integration was further underscored in the following version, PowerPoint 95, which was given the version number PowerPoint 7.0 (skipping 5.0 and 6.0) so that all the components of Office would share the same major version number.
Although PowerPoint by this point had become part of the integrated Microsoft Office product, its development remained in Silicon Valley. Succeeding versions of PowerPoint introduced important changes, particularly version 12.0 (2007) which had a very different shared Office "ribbon" user interface, and a new shared Office XML-based file format. This marked the 20th anniversary of PowerPoint, and Microsoft held an event to commemorate that anniversary at its Silicon Valley Campus for the PowerPoint team there. Special guests were Robert Gaskins, Dennis Austin, and Thomas Rudkin, and the featured speaker was Jeff Raikes, all from PowerPoint 1.0 days, 20 years before.
Since then major development of PowerPoint as part of Office has continued. New development techniques (shared across Office) for PowerPoint 2016 have made it possible to ship versions of PowerPoint 2016 for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and web access nearly simultaneously, and to release new features on a nearly-monthly schedule. PowerPoint development is still located in Silicon Valley as of 2017[update].
In 2010, Jeff Raikes, who had most recently been President of the Business Division of Microsoft (including responsibility for Office), observed: "of course, today we know that PowerPoint is often times the number two—or in some cases even the number one—most-used tool" among the applications in Office.
Sales and market share
PowerPoint's initial sales were about 40,000 copies sold in 1987 (nine months), about 85,000 copies in 1988, and about 100,000 copies in 1989, all for Macintosh. PowerPoint's market share in its first three years was a tiny part of the total presentation market, which was very heavily dominated by MS-DOS applications on PCs. The market leaders on MS-DOS in 1988-1989 were Harvard Graphics (introduced by Software Publishing in 1986) in first place, and Lotus Freelance Plus (also introduced in 1986) as a strong second. They were competing with more than a dozen other MS-DOS presentation products, and Microsoft did not develop a PowerPoint version for MS-DOS. After three years, PowerPoint sales were disappointing. Jeff Raikes, who had bought PowerPoint for Microsoft, later recalled: "By 1990, it looked like it wasn't a very smart idea [for Microsoft to have acquired PowerPoint], because not very many people were using PowerPoint."
This began to change when the first version for Windows, PowerPoint 2.0, brought sales up to about 200,000 copies in 1990 and to about 375,000 copies in 1991, with Windows units outselling Macintosh.(p403) PowerPoint sold about 1 million copies in 1992, of which about 80 percent were for Windows and about 20 percent for Macintosh,(p403) and in 1992 PowerPoint's market share of worldwide presentation graphics software sales was reported as 63 percent.(p404) By the last six months of 1992, PowerPoint revenue was running at a rate of over $100 million annually ($215 million in present-day terms).(p405)
Sales of PowerPoint 3.0 doubled to about 2 million copies in 1993, of which about 90 percent were for Windows and about 10 percent for Macintosh,(p403) and in 1993 PowerPoint's market share of worldwide presentation graphics software sales was reported as 78 percent.(p404) In both years, about half of total revenue came from sales outside the U.S.(p404)
By 1997 PowerPoint sales had doubled again, to more than 4 million copies annually, representing 85 percent of the world market. Also in 1997, an internal publication from the PowerPoint group said that by then over 20 million copies of PowerPoint were in use, and that total revenues from PowerPoint over its first ten years (1987 to 1996) had already exceeded $1 billion.
Since the late 1990s, PowerPoint's market share of total world presentation software has been estimated at 95 percent by both industry and academic sources.
The earliest version of PowerPoint (1987 for Macintosh) could be used to print black and white pages to be photocopied onto sheets of transparent film for projection from overhead projectors, and to print speaker's notes and audience handouts; the next version (1988 for Macintosh, 1990 for Windows) was extended to also produce color 35mm slides by communicating a file over a modem to a Genigraphics imaging center with slides returned by overnight delivery for projection from slide projectors. PowerPoint was used for planning and preparing a presentation, but not for delivering it (apart from previewing it on a computer screen, or distributing printed paper copies). The operation of PowerPoint changed substantially in its third version (1992 for Windows and Macintosh), when PowerPoint was extended to also deliver a presentation by producing direct video output to digital projectors or large monitors. In 1992 video projection of presentations was rare and expensive, and practically unknown from a laptop computer. Robert Gaskins, one of the creators of PowerPoint, says he publicly demonstrated that use for the first time at a large Microsoft meeting held in Paris on February 25, 1992, by using an unreleased development build of PowerPoint 3.0 running on an early pre-production sample of a powerful new color laptop and feeding a professional auditorium video projector.(pp373–375)
By about 2003, ten years later, digital projection had become the dominant mode of use, replacing transparencies and 35mm slides and their projectors.(pp410–414) As a result, the meaning of "PowerPoint presentation" narrowed to mean specifically digital projection:
... in the business lexicon, "PowerPoint presentation" had come to refer to a presentation made using a PowerPoint slideshow projected from a computer. Although the PowerPoint software had been used to generate transparencies for over a decade, this usage was not typically encompassed by common understanding of the term.
In contemporary operation, PowerPoint is used to create a file (called a "presentation" or "deck") containing a sequence of pages (called "slides" in the app) which usually have a consistent style (from template masters), and which may contain information imported from other apps or created in PowerPoint, including text, bullet lists, tables, charts, drawn shapes, images, audio clips, video clips, animations of elements, and animated transitions between slides, plus attached notes for each slide.
After such a file is created, typical operation is to present it as a slide show using a portable computer, where the presentation file is stored on the computer or available from a network, and the computer's screen shows a "presenter view" with current slide, next slide, speaker's notes for the current slide, and other information. Video is sent from the computer to one or more external digital projectors or monitors, showing only the current slide to the audience, with sequencing controlled by the speaker at the computer. A smartphone remote control built in to PowerPoint for iOS (optionally controlled from Apple Watch) and for Android allows the presenter to control the show from elsewhere in the room.
In addition to a computer slide show projected to a live audience by a speaker, PowerPoint can be used to deliver a presentation in a number of other ways:
- Displayed on the screen of the presentation computer or tablet (for a very small group)
- Printed for distribution as paper documents (in several formats)
- Distributed as files for private viewing, even on computers without PowerPoint
- Packaged for distribution on CD or a network, including linked and embedded data
- Transmitted as a live broadcast presentation over the web
- Embedded in a web page or blog
- Shared on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter
- Set up as a self-running unattended display
- Recorded as video/audio (H.264/AAC), to be distributed as for any other video
Some of these ways of using PowerPoint have been studied by JoAnne Yates and Wanda Orlikowski of the MIT Sloan School of Management:
The standard form of such presentations involves a single person standing before a group of people, talking and using the PowerPoint slideshow to project visual aids onto a screen. ... In practice, however, presentations are not always delivered in this mode. In our studies, we often found that the presenter sat at a table with a small group of people and walked them through a "deck", composed of paper copies of the slides. In some cases, decks were simply distributed to individuals, without even a walk-through or discussion. ... Other variations in form included sending the PowerPoint file electronically to another site and talking through the slides over an audio or video channel (e.g., telephone or video conference) as both parties viewed the slides. ... Another common variation was placing a PowerPoint file on a web site for people to view at different times.
They found that some of these ways of using PowerPoint could influence the content of presentations, for example when "the slides themselves have to carry more of the substance of the presentation, and thus need considerably more content than they would have if they were intended for projection by a speaker who would orally provide additional details and nuance about content and context."
PowerPoint, more than most other personal computer applications, has been experienced as a powerful force producing change throughout all of society. In 2016 an analyst summed up: "the real mystery is ... 'how come almost every organisation in the world is using PowerPoint to communicate almost everything to almost everybody?'. That's the real question. How come PowerPoint is everywhere?"
PowerPoint was originally targeted just for business presentations. Robert Gaskins, who was responsible for its design, has written about his intended customers: "... I did not target other existing large groups of users of presentations, such as school teachers or military officers. ... I also did not plan to target people who were not existing users of presentations ... such as clergy and school children ... . Our focus was purely on business users, in small and large companies, from one person to the largest multinationals."(pp76–77) Business people had for a long time made presentations for sales calls and for internal company communications, and PowerPoint produced the same formats in the same style and for the same purposes.(p420)
PowerPoint use in business grew over its first five years (1987-1992) to sales of about 1 million copies annually, for worldwide market share of 63 percent. Over the following five years (1992-1997) PowerPoint sales accelerated, to a rate of about 4 million copies annually, for worldwide market share of 85 percent. The increase in business use has been attributed to "network effects," whereby additional users of PowerPoint in a company or an industry increased its salience and value to other users.
Not everyone immediately approved of the greater use of PowerPoint for presentations, even in business. CEOs who very early were reported to discourage or ban PowerPoint presentations at internal business meetings included Lou Gerstner (at IBM, in 1993),Scott McNealy (at Sun Microsystems, in 1996), and Steve Jobs (at Apple, in 1997). But even so, Rich Gold, a scholar who studied corporate presentation use at Xerox PARC, could write in 1999: "Within today's corporation, if you want to communicate an idea ... you use PowerPoint."
Uses beyond business
At the same time that PowerPoint was becoming dominant in business settings, it was also being adopted for uses beyond business: "Personal computing ... scaled up the production of presentations. ... The result has been the rise of presentation culture. In an information society, nearly everyone presents."
In 1998, at about the same time that Gold was pronouncing PowerPoint's ubiquity in business, the influential Bell Labs engineer Robert W. Lucky could already write about broader uses:
... the world has run amok with the giddy power of presentation graphics. A new language is in the air, and it is codified in PowerPoint. ... In a family discussion about what to do on a given evening, for example, I feel like pulling out my laptop and giving a Vugraph presentation ... . In church I am surprised that the preachers haven't caught on yet. ... How have we gotten on so long without PowerPoint?
Over a decade or so, beginning in the mid 1990s, PowerPoint began to be used in many communication situations, well beyond its original business presentation uses, to include teaching in schools and in universities, lecturing in scientific meetings (and preparing their related poster sessions), worshipping in churches, making legal arguments in courtrooms, displaying supertitles in theaters, driving helmet-mounted displays in spacesuits for NASA astronauts, giving military briefings, issuing governmental reports, undertaking diplomatic negotiations, writing novels, giving architectural demonstrations, prototyping website designs, creating animated video games, creating art projects, and even as a substitute for writing engineering technical reports, and as an organizing tool for writing general business documents.
By 2003, it seemed that PowerPoint was being used everywhere. Julia Keller reported for the Chicago Tribune:
PowerPoint ... is one of the most pervasive and ubiquitous technological tools ever concocted. In less than a decade, it has revolutionized the worlds of business, education, science and communications, swiftly becoming the standard for just about anybody who wants to explain just about anything to just about anybody else. From corporate middle managers reporting on production goals to 4th-graders fashioning a show-and-tell on the French and Indian War to church pastors explicating the seven deadly sins ... PowerPoint seems poised for world domination.
As uses broadened, cultural awareness of PowerPoint grew and commentary about it began to appear. "With the widespread adoption of PowerPoint came complaints ... often very general statements reflecting dissatisfaction with modern media and communication practices as well as the dysfunctions of organizational culture." Indications of this awaremess included increasing mentions of PowerPoint use in the Dilbert comic strips of Scott Adams, comic parodies of poor or inappropriate use such as the Gettysburg Address in PowerPoint or summaries of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Nabokov's Lolita in PowerPoint, and a vast number of publications on the general subject of PowerPoint, especially about how to use it.
Out of all the analyses of PowerPoint over a quarter of a century, at least three general themes emerged as categories of reaction to its broader use: (1) "Use it less": avoid PowerPoint in favor of alternatives, such as using more-complex graphics and written prose, or using nothing; (2) "Use it differently": make a major change to a PowerPoint style that is simpler and pictorial, turning the presentation toward a performance, more like a Steve Jobs keynote; and (3) "Use it better": retain much of the conventional PowerPoint style but learn to avoid making many kinds of mistakes that can interfere with communication.
Use it less
See also: Edward Tufte
An early reaction was that the broader use of PowerPoint was a mistake, and should be reversed. An influential example of this came from Edward Tufte, an authority on information design, who has been a professor of political science, statistics, and computer science at Princeton and Yale, but is best known for his self-published books on data visualization, which have sold nearly 2 million copies as of 2014.
In 2003, he published a widely-read booklet titled The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, revised in 2006. Tufte found a number of problems with the "cognitive style" of PowerPoint, many of which he attributed to the standard default style templates:
PowerPoint's convenience for some presenters is costly to the content and the audience. These costs arise from the cognitive style characteristics of the standard default PP presentation: foreshortening of evidence and thought, low spatial resolution, an intensely hierarchical single-path structure as the model for organizing every type of content, breaking up narratives and data into slides and minimal fragments, rapid temporal sequencing of thin information rather than focused spatial analysis, conspicuous chartjunk and PP Phluff, branding of slides with logotypes, a preoccupation with format not content, incompetent designs for data graphics and tables, and a smirky commercialism that turns information into a sales pitch and presenters into marketeers [italics in original].
Tufte particularly advised against using PowerPoint for reporting scientific analyses, using as a dramatic example some slides made during the flight of the space shuttle Columbia after it had been damaged by an accident at liftoff, slides which poorly communicated the engineers' limited understanding of what had happened.(pp8–14) For such technical presentations, and for most occasions apart from its initial domain of sales presentations, Tufte advised against using PowerPoint at all; in many situations, according to Tufte, it would be better to substitute high-resolution graphics or concise prose documents as handouts for the audience to study and discuss, providing a great deal more detail.
Many commentators enthusiastically joined in Tufte's vivid criticism of PowerPoint uses, and at a conference held in 2013 (a decade after Tufte's booklet appeared) one paper claimed that "Despite all the criticism about his work, Tufte can be considered as the single most influential author in the discourse on PowerPoint. ... While his approach was not rigorous from a research perspective, his articles received wide resonance with the public at large ... ."  There were also others who disagreed with Tufte's assertion that the PowerPoint program reduces the quality of presenters' thoughts: Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at MIT and later Harvard, had earlier argued that "If anything, PowerPoint, if used well, would ideally reflect the way we think." Pinker later reinforced this opinion: "Any general opposition to PowerPoint is just dumb, ... It's like denouncing lectures—before there were awful PowerPoint presentations, there were awful scripted lectures, unscripted lectures, slide shows, chalk talks, and so on."
Much of the early commentary, on all sides, was "informal" and "anecdotal", because empirical research had been limited.
Use it differently
See also: Richard E. Mayer and Steve Jobs Keynotes
A second reaction to PowerPoint use was to say that PowerPoint can be used well, but only by substantially changing its style of use. This reaction is exemplified by Richard E. Mayer, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has studied cognition and learning, particularly the design of educational multimedia, and who has published more than 500 publications, including over 30 books. Mayer's theme has been that "In light of the science, it is up to us to make a fundamental shift in our thinking—we can no longer expect people to struggle to try to adapt to our PowerPoint habits. Instead, we have to change our PowerPoint habits to align with the way people learn."
Tufte had argued his judgment that the information density of text on PowerPoint slides was too low, perhaps only 40 words on a slide, leading to over-simplified messages; Mayer responded that his empirical research showed exactly the opposite, that the amount of text on PowerPoint slides was usually too high, and that even fewer than 40 words on a slide resulted in "PowerPoint overload" that impeded understanding during presentations.
Mayer suggested a few major changes from traditional PowerPoint formats:
- replacing brief slide titles with longer "headlines" expressing complete ideas;
- showing more slides but simpler ones;
- removing almost all text including nearly all bullet lists (reserving the text for the spoken narration);
- using larger, higher-quality, and more important graphics and photographs;
- removing all extraneous decoration, backgrounds, logos and identifications, everything but the essential message.
Mayer's ideas are claimed by Carmine Gallo to have been reflected in Steve Jobs's presentations: "Mayer outlined fundamental principles of multimedia design based on what scientists know about cognitive functioning. Steve Jobs's slides adhere to each of Mayer's principles ... ."(p92) Though not unique to Jobs, many people saw the style for the first time in Jobs's famous product introductions. Steve Jobs would have been using Apple's Keynote which was designed for Jobs's own slide shows beginning in 2003, but Gallo says that "speaking like Jobs has little to do with the type of presentation software you use (PowerPoint, Keynote,etc.) ... all the techniques apply equally to PowerPoint and Keynote."(pp14,46) Gallo adds that "Microsoft's PowerPoint has one big advantage over Apple's Keynote presentation software—it's everywhere ... it's safe to say that the number of Keynote presentations is miniscule in comparison with PowerPoint. Although most presentation designers who are familiar with both formats prefer to work in the more elegant Keynote system, those same designers will tell you that the majority of their client work is done in PowerPoint."(p44)
Consistent with its association with Steve Jobs's keynotes, a response to this style has been that it is particularly effective for "ballroom-style presentations" (as often given in conference center ballrooms) where a celebrated and practiced speaker addresses a large passive audience, but less appropriate for "conference room-style presentations" which are often recurring internal business meetings for in-depth discussion with motivated counterparts.
Use it better
See also: Stephen Kosslyn
A third reaction to PowerPoint use was to conclude that the standard style is capable of being used well, but that many small points need to be executed carefully, to avoid impeding understanding. This kind of analysis is particularly associated with Stephen Kosslyn, a cognitive neuroscientist who specializes in the psychology of learning and visual communication, and who has been head of the department of psychology at Harvard, has been Director of Stanford's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and has published some 300 papers and 14 books.
Kosslyn presented a set of psychological principles of "human perception, memory, and comprehension" that "appears to capture the major points of agreement among researchers." He reports that his experiments support the idea that that it is not intuitive or obvious how to create effective PowerPoint presentations that conform to those agreed principles, and that even small differences that might not seem significant to a presenter can produce very different results in audiences' understanding. For this reason, Kosslyn says, users need specific education to be able to identify best ways to avoid "flaws and failures":
Specifically, we hypothesized and found that the psychological principles are often violated in PowerPoint slideshows across different fields ... , that some types of presentation flaws are noticeable and annoying to audience members ... , and that observers have difficulty identifying many violations in graphical displays in individual slides ... . These studies converge in painting the following picture: PowerPoint presentations are commonly flawed; some types of flaws are more common than others; flaws are not isolated to one domain or context; and, although some types of flaws annoy the audience, flaws at the level of slide design are not always obvious to an untrained observer ... .
The many "flaws and failures" identified were those "likely to disrupt the comprehension or memory of the material." Among the most common examples were "Bulleted items are not presented individually, growing the list from the top to the bottom," "More than four bulleted items appear in a single list," "More than two lines are used per bulleted sentence," and "Words are not large enough (i.e., greater than 20 point) to be easily seen." Among audience reactions common problems reported were "Speakers read word-for-word from notes or from the slides themselves," "The slides contained too much material to absorb before the next slide was presented," and "The main point was obscured by lots of irrelevant detail."
Kosslyn observes that these findings could help to explain why the many studies of instructional effectiveness of PowerPoint have been inconclusive and conflicting, if there were differences in the quality of the presentations tested in different studies that went unobserved because "many may feel that 'good design' is intuitively clear."
In 2007 Kosslyn wrote a book about PowerPoint, in which he suggested a very large number of fairly modest changes to PowerPoint styles and gave advice on recommended ways of using PowerPoint. In a later second book about PowerPoint he suggested nearly 150 clarifying style changes (in fewer than 150 pages). Kosslyn summarizes:(pp2–3,200)
... there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the PowerPoint program as a medium; rather, I claim that the problem lies in how it is used. ... In fact, this medium is a remarkably versatile tool that can be extraordinarily effective. ... For many purposes, PowerPoint presentations are a superior medium of communication, which is why they have become standard in so many fields.
In 2017, an online poll of social media users in the UK was reported to show that PowerPoint "remains as popular with young tech-savvy users as it is with the Baby Boomers," with about four out of five saying that "PowerPoint was a great tool for making presentations," in part because "PowerPoint, with its capacity to be highly visual, bridges the wordy world of yesterday with the visual future of tomorrow." Also in 2017, the Managerial Communication Group of MIT Sloan School of Management polled their incoming MBA students, finding that "results underscore just how differently this generation communicates as compared with older workers." Fewer than half of respondents reported doing any meaningful, longer-form writing at work, and even that minority mostly did so very infrequently, but "85 percent of students named producing presentations as a meaningful part of their job responsibilities. Two-thirds report that they present on a daily or weekly basis—so it's no surprise that in-person presentations is the top skill they hope to improve." One of the researchers concluded: "We're not likely to see future workplaces with long-form writing. The trend is toward presentations and slides, and we don't see any sign of that slowing down."
U.S. military excess
Use of PowerPoint by the U.S. military services began slowly, because they were invested in mainframe computers, MS-DOS PCs, and specialized military-specification graphic output devices, all of which PowerPoint did not support. But because of the strong military tradition of presenting briefings, as soon as they acquired the computers needed to run it, PowerPoint became part of the U.S. military.
By 2000, ten years after PowerPoint for Windows appeared, it was already identified as an important feature of U.S. armed forces culture, in a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal:
Old-fashioned slide briefings, designed to update generals on troop movements, have been a staple of the military since World War II. But in only a few short years PowerPoint has altered the landscape. Just as word processing made it easier to produce long, meandering memos, the spread of PowerPoint has unleashed a blizzard of jazzy but often incoherent visuals. Instead of drawing up a dozen slides on a legal pad and running them over to the graphics department, captains and colonels now can create hundreds of slides in a few hours without ever leaving their desks. If the spirit moves them they can build in gunfire sound effects and images that explode like land mines. ... PowerPoint has become such an ingrained part of the defense culture that it has seeped into the military lexicon. "PowerPoint Ranger" is a derogatory term for a desk-bound bureaucrat more adept at making slides than tossing grenades.
U.S. military use of PowerPoint may have influenced its use by armed forces of other countries: "Foreign armed services also are beginning to get in on the act. 'You can't speak with the U.S. military without knowing PowerPoint,' says Margaret Hayes, an instructor at National Defense University in Washington D.C., who teaches Latin American military officers how to use the software."
After another 10 years, in 2010 (and again on its front page) the New York Times reported that PowerPoint use in the military was then "a military tool that has spun out of control":
Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan. ... Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers ... in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader's pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.
The New York Times account went on to say that as a result some U.S. generals had banned the use of PowerPoint in their operations:
"PowerPoint makes us stupid," Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat. "It's dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control," General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. "Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable."
Several incidents, about the same time, gave wide currency to discussions by serving military officers describing excessive PowerPoint use and the organizational culture that encouraged it. In response to the New York Times story, Peter Norvig and Stephen M. Kosslyn sent a joint letter to the editor stressing the institutional culture of the military: "... many military personnel bemoan the overuse and misuse of PowerPoint. ... The problem is not in the tool itself, but in the way that people use it—which is partly a result of how institutions promote misuse.
The two generals who had been mentioned in 2010 as opposing the institutional culture of excessive PowerPoint use were both in the news again in 2017, when James N. Mattis became U.S. Secretary of Defense, and H. R. McMaster was appointed as U.S. National Security Advisor.
Musician David Byrne has been using PowerPoint as a medium for art for years, producing a book and DVD and showing at galleries his PowerPoint-based artwork. Byrne has written: "I have been working with PowerPoint, the ubiquitous presentation software, as an art medium for a number of years. It started off as a joke (this software is a symbol of corporate salesmanship, or lack thereof) but then the work took on a life of its own as I realized I could create pieces that were moving, despite the limitations of the 'medium.'"
In 2005 Byrne toured with a theater piece styled as a PowerPoint presentation. When he presented it in Berkeley, on March 8, 2005, the University of California news service reported: "Byrne also defended its [PowerPoint's] appeal as more than just a business tool—as a medium for art and theater. His talk was titled 'I ♥ PowerPoint' ... . Berkeley alumnus Bob Gaskins and Dennis Austin ... were in the audience ... . Eventually, Byrne said, PowerPoint could be the foundation for 'presentational theater,' with roots in Brechtian drama and Asian puppet theater." After that performance, Byrne described it in his own online journal: "Did the PowerPoint talk in Berkeley for an audience of IT legends and academics. I was terrified. The guys that originally turned PowerPoint into a program were there, what were THEY gonna think? ... [Gaskins] did tell me afterwards that he liked the PowerPoint as theater idea, which was a relief."
The expressions "PowerPoint Art" or "pptArt" are used to define a contemporary Italian artistic movement which believes that the corporate world can be a unique and exceptional source of inspiration for the artist. They say: "The pptArt name refers to PowerPoint, the symbolic and abstract language developed by the corporate world which has become a universal and highly symbolic communication system beyond cultures and borders."
The wide use of PowerPoint had, by 2010, given rise to " ... a subculture of PowerPoint enthusiasts [that] is teaching the old application new tricks, and may even be turning a dry presentation format into a full-fledged artistic medium," by using PowerPoint animation to create "games, artworks, anime, and movies."
PowerPoint Viewer is the name for a series of small free application programs to be used on computers without PowerPoint installed, to view, project, or print (but not create or edit) presentations.
The first version was introduced with PowerPoint 3.0 in 1992, to enable electronic presentations to be projected using conference-room computers and to be freely distributed; on Windows, it took advantage of the new feature of embedding TrueType fonts within PowerPoint presentation files to make such distribution easier. The same kind of viewer app was shipped with PowerPoint 3.0 for Macintosh, also in 1992.
Beginning with PowerPoint 2003, a feature called "Package for CD" automatically managed all linked video and audio files plus needed fonts when exporting a presentation to a disk or flash drive or network location, and also included a copy of a revised PowerPoint Viewer application so that the result could be presented on other PCs without installing anything.
The latest version that runs on Windows "was created in conjunction with PowerPoint 2010, but it can also be used to view newer presentations created in PowerPoint 2013 and PowerPoint 2016. ... All transitions, videos and effects appear and behave the same when viewed using PowerPoint Viewer as they do when viewed in PowerPoint 2010." It supports presentations created using PowerPoint 97 and later. The latest version that runs on Macintosh is PowerPoint 98 Viewer for the Classic Mac OS and Classic Environment, for Macs supporting System 7.5 to Mac OS X Tiger (10.4). It can open presentations only from PowerPoint 3.0, 4.0, and 8.0 (PowerPoint 98), although presentations created on Mac can be opened in PowerPoint Viewer on Windows.
As of January 2018[update], the latest versions of PowerPoint Viewer for Windows (2010) and for Classic Mac OS (1998) remain available for download. But in November, 2017, Microsoft announced that the PowerPoint Viewers for Windows (both the 2010 and 2007 versions) "will be retired in April, 2018" and "at that time, they will no longer be available for download and will no longer receive security updates." The recommended replacements: "On Windows 10 PCs, download the free ... PowerPoint Mobile application from the Windows Store," and "On Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 PCs, upload the file to OneDrive and view it for free using ... PowerPoint Online."
|Legend:||Old version||Older version, still supported||Current stable version||Latest preview version||Future release|
|000000001987-04-01-0000April 1987||PowerPoint||Old version, no longer supported: 1.0||Macintosh||Shipped by Forethought, Inc.|
|000000001987-10-01-0000October 1987||PowerPoint||Old version, no longer supported: 1.01||Macintosh||Relabeled and shipped by Microsoft|
|000000001988-05-01-0000May 1988||PowerPoint||Old version, no longer supported: 2.0||Macintosh|
You may already have some ideas for how to incorporate visual and audio media in your presentation. If not, review your outline and begin thinking about where to include media. Presenting information in a variety of formats will help you keep your audience’s interest.
Use Presentation Software
Delivering your presentation as a slideshow is one way to use media to your advantage. As you speak, you use a computer and an attached projector to display a slideshow of text and graphics that complement the speech. Your audience will follow your ideas more easily, because you are communicating with them through more than one sense. The audience hears your words and also sees the corresponding visuals. A listener who momentarily loses track of what you are saying can rely on the slide to cue his or her memory.
To set up your presentation, you will need to work with the content of your outline to develop individual slides. Each slide should focus on just a few bullet points (or a similar amount of content presented in a graphic). Remember that your audience must be able to read the slides easily, whether the members sit in the front or the back of the room. Avoid overcrowding the slides with too much text.
Using presentation software, such as PowerPoint, allows you to incorporate graphics, sounds, and even web links directly into your slides. You can also work with available styles, color schemes, and fonts to give your presentation a polished, consistent appearance. Different slide templates make it easy to organize information to suit your purpose. Be sure your font is visible to you audience. Avoid using small font or colored font that is not visible against your background.
Use PowerPoint as a Visual Aid
PowerPoint and similar visual representation programs can be effective tools to help audiences remember your message, but they can also be an annoying distraction to your speech. How you prepare your slides and use the tool will determine your effectiveness.
PowerPoint is a slideware program that you have no doubt seen used in class, seen in a presentation at work, or perhaps used yourself to support a presentation. PowerPoint and similar slideware programs provide templates for creating electronic slides to present visual information to the audience, reinforcing the verbal message. You will be able to import or cut and paste words from text files, images, or video clips to create slides to represent your ideas. You can even incorporate web links. When using any software program, it is always a good idea to experiment with it long before you intend to use it; explore its many options and functions, and see how it can be an effective tool for you.
At first, you might be overwhelmed by the possibilities, and you might be tempted to use all the bells, whistles, and sound effects, not to mention the tumbling, flying, and animated graphics. If used wisely, a dissolve or key transition can be like a well-executed scene from a major motion picture and lead your audience to the next point. But if used indiscriminately, it can annoy the audience to the point where they cringe in anticipation of the sound effect at the start of each slide. This danger is inherent in the tool, but you are in charge of it and can make wise choices that enhance the understanding and retention of your information.
The first point to consider is which visual aid is the most important. The answer is you, the speaker. You will facilitate the discussion, give life to the information, and help the audience correlate the content to your goal or purpose. You do not want to be in a position where the PowerPoint presentation is the focus and you are on the side of the stage simply helping the audience follow along. Slides should support you in your presentation, rather than the other way around. Just as there is a number one rule for handouts (do not pass them out at the start of your presentation), there is also one for PowerPoint presentations: do not use PowerPoint slides as a read-aloud script for your speech. The PowerPoint slides should amplify and illustrate your main points, not reproduce everything you are going to say.
Your pictures are the second area of emphasis you will want to consider. The tool will allow you to show graphs, charts and illustrate relationships that words may only approach in terms of communication, but your verbal support of the visual images will make all the difference. Dense pictures or complicated graphics will confuse more than they clarify. Choose clear images that have an immediate connection to both your content and the audience, tailored to their specific needs. After the images, consider using only key words that can be easily read to accompany your pictures. The fewer words the better. Try to keep each slide to a total word count of less than ten words. Do not use full sentences. Using key words provides support for your verbal discussion, guiding you as well as your audience. The key words can serve as signposts or signal words related to key ideas.
A natural question at this point is, How do I communicate complex information simply? The answer comes with several options. The visual representation on the screen is for support and illustration. Should you need to communicate more technical, complex, or in-depth information in a visual way, consider preparing a handout to distribute at the conclusion of your speech. You may also consider using a printout of your slide show with a section for taking notes, but if you distribute it at the beginning of your speech, you run the risk of turning your presentation into a guided reading exercise and possibly distracting or losing members of the audience. Everyone reads at a different pace and takes notes in their own way. You do not want to be in the position of going back and forth between slides to help people follow along.
Another point to consider is how you want to use the tool to support your speech and how your audience will interpret its presentation. Most audiences wouldn’t want to read a page of text—as you might see in this book—on the big screen. They will be far more likely to glance at the screen and assess the information you present in relation to your discussion. Therefore, it is key to consider one main idea, relationship, or point per slide. The use of the tool should be guided with the idea that its presentation is for the audience’s benefit, not yours. People often understand pictures and images more quickly and easily than text, and you can use this to your advantage, using the knowledge that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Incorporate Visual Media
Even if you do not use a slideshow to complement your presentation, you can include visual media to support and enhance your content. Visual media are divided into two major categories: images and informational graphics.
Image-based media, such as photographs or videos, often have little or no accompanying text. Often these media are more powerful than words in getting a message across. Within the past decade, the images associated with major news stories, such as the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the Abu Ghraib prison abuses from 2004 to 2006, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, have powerfully affected viewers’ emotions and drawn their attention to these news stories.
Even if your presentation addresses a less dramatic subject, you can still use images to draw in your audience. Consider how photographs, an illustration, or a video might help your audience connect with a particular person or place or bring a historical event to life. Use visual images to support descriptions of natural or man-made phenomena. What ideas lend themselves to being explained primarily through images?
In addition, consider how you might incorporate informational graphics in your presentation. Informational graphics include diagrams, tables, pie charts, bar and line graphs, and flow charts. Informational graphics usually include some text and often work well to present numerical information. Consider using them if you are presenting statistics, comparing facts or data about several different groups, describing changes over time, or presenting a process.
Incorporate Audio Media
Although audio media are not as versatile as visual media, you may wish to use them if they work well with your particular topic. If your presentation discusses trends in pop music or analyzes political speeches, playing an audio clip is an obvious and effective choice. Clips from historical speeches, radio talk shows, and interviews can also be used, but extended clips may be ineffective with modern audiences. Always assess your audience’s demographics and expectations before selecting and including audio media.